What’s the difference between a mini and a full face lift?

One does more than the other. But read on to learn more about which kind of face lift you need.

April 19, 2021

5 min read


When you’re considering a facelift, it’s important to keep in mind exactly what your goals are and what results you’re hoping to achieve. Look in the mirror and take a note of what you’re looking to refresh. Your concerns about your face are the determining factor in what kind of facelift to have done. The reason being that a mini facelift and full facelift resolve different issues, because of the difference in how much tissue is removed and “lifted” between the two. A mini facelift can only target a narrow area of the face, whereas a full facelift can target the whole face and the neck.

Mini Face Lift

A mini facelift sounds like the ideal procedure for someone wanting to refresh their appearance without making too drastic a change, but a mini facelift isn’t a one-size-fits-all procedure and, given its very targeted approach, it may not be able to give you the results you’re hoping for. There is no universally-accepted definition of what a “mini” facelift is, either.  Many surgeons use the term “mini” because patient’s like to think they are doing a “mini” procedure, even if what is actually done is a regular facelift.

How is it done?

The mini facelift typically just targets the skin of your cheek area. Your surgeon will use shorter incisions on the sides of your face to remove the excess sagging skin and reposition them to a more youthful position. Depending on your particular anatomy and your surgeon’s technique, tightening muscles with suture may be involved. Extra skin in the area is removed, and then the incision is closed. Since only a small incision is used, only a small amount of tissue can be repositioned and removed. The results will be more minimal.1

What won’t it do?

The mini facelift is limited in how much tissue it can target, because such short incisions are used. So it may not be able to correct a sagging neck or jowls.

A mini facelift also doesn’t alter the surface of your skin. If your complexion is giving you an aged appearance, laser resurfacing or a chemical peel following your lift can help restore your skin to a more youthful complexion.

Who is it for?

A mini facelift will give the best results to someone who is younger (think: 40’s) and has early signs of aging, like minor wrinkling and sagging in the cheek area and a little under eye drooping. Typically, the ideal candidate will have elasticity and good skin quality.

How long will it last?

The results of a mini facelift can last up to five years, depending on technique and individual anatomy. The truth is, though, that a mini facelift could leave you with a minimal or unnatural looking result because of its inherent limitations. Because a mini facelift will only alter a small area of the face, the rest of your face and neck will still show signs of aging which could be more noticeable to you after your lift. Your newly lifted cheeks may seem imbalanced in comparison to the rest of your face and neck.

Full Face Lift

A full facelift is able to rejuvenate your entire face and neck, so if you’ve been seeing the signs of aging in more than just your cheek area, a full facelift can give you the aesthetic results you’re looking for.

How is it done?

Longer incisions are made in front of and behind both ears. Typically, these incisions can be easily hidden in the folds of your skin, which will help minimize your scarring. Your skin is lifted to give your surgeon access to the tissues underneath. Your surgeon may reposition the layer under your skin with sutures. Since the incisions are longer, your surgeon will have access to your entire face and also the neck so your whole face can be rejuvenated.2

You may also choose to have fat injections done at the time of your facelift, which can restore fullness to areas where you’ve experienced volume loss. This can further enhance the overall effect of your surgery and prevent an unnatural look. Once the underlying tissues have been repositioned, your skin is redraped, the excess skin and fat is removed, and your incisions are closed. Afterwards, your face should look refreshed, lifted, and more youthful.

The SMAS difference

A full facelift often involves manipulation of a specific layer of your deeper facial anatomy called the SMAS. SMAS stands for superficial musculoaponeurotic system. Basically, it’s a connecting tissue layer that can lift muscle, fat, and skin. The SMAS is important to a full facelift because it’s the reason why a full facelift can target the lower parts of your face and your neck. The SMAS attaches to the muscles and tissues in the lower part of your face and your neck, so lifting and tightening the SMAS tightens those tissues too. The SMAS layer can be tightened in different ways, depending on your plastic surgeon’s technique, and what works best for your facial anatomy.3

What won’t it do?

A full facelift is able to target the sagginess of your whole face and neck, but for someone with drooping of the eyelids or forehead, you may need to add a blepharoplasty or a brow lift to achieve the results you desire.

A full facelift also won’t be able to alter the surface of your skin, so if you have damaged skin from sun-exposure, smoking, or aging, you may want to consider laser resurfacing or a chemical peel after you’ve healed from a facelift to rejuvenate your complexion. You will probably also want to have fat transfer done at the same time as your facelift – learn more about the benefits of fat transfer here.

Who is it for?

A full facelift is for anyone who’s noticed the signs of aging on multiple areas of their face and neck. There’s no perfect age for you to get a facelift, since the signs of aging start appearing for people at different times, and are dependent on different factors. These days, the trend is toward having a facelift at at earlier age because the results are often better and more subtle at that time.

How long does it last?

If you decide to have a full facelift done, you could enjoy your results for quite a while. This procedure resets the clock on your whole face, so you r cheek area and neck will be balanced, unlike what could happen with a mini facelift. And, if done in conjunction with skin resurfacing, the visible changes can last even longer.


If you’re ready to get a facelift, schedule an appointment with your plastic surgeon to discuss your goals. Remember that every face is different, and what works for one person might not be what will work for you. Your plastic surgeon will be able to help you decide which facelift procedure will work best for your goals, and will customize your procedure to address your facial needs.

  1. Barton Jr, Fritz E. “Aesthetic surgery of the face and neck.” Aesthetic Surgery Journal 29, no. 6 (2009): 449-463.
  2. Barton Jr, Fritz E. “Aesthetic surgery of the face and neck.” Aesthetic Surgery Journal 29, no. 6 (2009): 449-463.
  3. Jacono, Andrew A., and Evan R. Ransom. “Patient-specific rhytidectomy: finding the angle of maximal rejuvenation.” Aesthetic Surgery Journal 32, no. 7 (2012): 804-813.

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